Lest We Forget

Posted by editor on November 12, 2009 under Community, Education and health

Len Grant visits a special Remembrance Day service in Gorton… for the whole community.

Rev David Grey leads the service at the war memorial

Rev David Grey leads the service at the war memorial

It’s been Remembrance Day today: 91 years since the armistice signed between the Allies and Germany marked the end of the First World War. Now, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, thousands of services are being held up and down the country as people stop in their tracks to remember the fallen in conflicts past and present.

Respect from across the generations

Respect from across the generations

I’ve come to Gorton Cemetery where schoolchildren from 17 primary and high schools are joining ex-servicemen, young men from the local training corps, serving police and fire officers and local families to commemorate the lives lost.

St Clements, Openshaw: “We’re here to remember everyone who has died.”

St Clements, Openshaw: “We’re here to remember everyone who has died.”

Sharon Adesiyan is here with her classmates from St Clements School in Openshaw. They have been learning about the Second World War at school. What, I ask, have you found out? “All the women took over the men’s jobs while they went off to fight,” she says. “And did they do a better job?” I ask, rather unfairly. “They did just as good a job as the men,” she replied, diplomatically.

A brass band from Wright Robinson College strikes up to signify the start of the service. “It’s not about us old folk”, says Rev. David Gray, “those who put their lives on the line did so for the world their children would inherit. Today is about you and about all of us honouring them by doing all we can in our time to build peace for you and with you for future generations.”

There are prayers, readings, more from the band and a procession of wreaths. Then, at 11 o’clock, the bearers lower their standards and their heads in silent contemplation.

Les Worthington: “This is the ninth year and each time we go from strength to strength.”

Les Worthington: “This is the ninth year and each time we go from strength to strength.”

This event at the cemetery is relatively recent. Only since 2001 have local people gathered each November, all due to the efforts of Les Worthington, chair of the Belle Vue branch of the Royal British Legion. “There were only eight of us at that first remembrance service,” he recalls, “and only two of them were servicemen.” Since then, Les has built up the event to include local schools, and, judging by the turnout today, he has been extremely successful.

He allocates each school a section of the cemetery and after the service the children and their teachers investigate their portion on a map supplied by Les.

“We’ve been coming down for four years now,” Neil Flint, headteacher of Aspinall Primary School in Gorton tells me. “It’s incredibly useful in getting the children talking about the various conflicts and the sacrifices made. There are eight war graves in this section of the cemetery and for each one we find the age, rank and regiment of the fallen soldier.”

Each school marks the  war graves in their section of the cemetery

Each school marks the war graves in their section of the cemetery

As the standard bearers roll up their ceremonial flags, the schoolchildren scatter to all parts of the cemetery and place poppy crosses in front of the 157 war graves. They ask their teachers questions about each headstone, adding their own family’s experiences of great-grandfathers and grandfathers. Today is a day they will not forget.

Nutsford Vale

Posted by editor on November 9, 2009 under Environment

Years ago this patch of woodland in Gorton was a landfill site, but now – after winning a £300,000 grant – Nutsford Vale has its sights set on becoming a visitor destination.

“Every Sunday was disturbed by the whine of trail bikes tearing around,” recalls local resident, Alan G. “It was becoming a playground for bikers and a favourite spot for illegal tipping.”

Nutsford Vale

Nutsford Vale

Fed up with their piece of countryside sinking into abandonment, Alan and some of his neighbours set up the Nutsford Vale Park Project more than 10 years ago to lobby for change. Now, after a decade of small grants and piecemeal improvements, the Vale has hit the jackpot: more than £300,000 will be spent in the next two years to create a valuable community resource.

The money comes from a £4.7 million initiative by the North West Development Agency to fund the remediation of 400 acres (equivalent to about 200 football pitches) of brownfield land in Merseyside and Greater Manchester. The ‘Setting the Scene for Growth’ programme aims to transform what were once municipal tips.

Jackson's Clay Pit, 1964

Jackson's Clay Pit, 1964

A generation ago the 40-acre Nutsford Vale was a known as Jackson’s Clay Pit, with lorries and heavy machinery working the relatively small patch between the densely populated housing. Once closed the pit was filled with council waste until 1978 when, presumably, it could hold no more.

Red Rose Forest, the partnership organisation charged with ‘greening’ Greater Manchester, submitted the successful bid after consultation with the residents’ group. “We’ve been working together for some years now,” says Hilary Wood from Red Rose. “We originally raised some funding through the Green Tips Project which meant we could fence off part of the site, and do a little planting.”

Matthew's Lane Corporation Tip, 1974

Matthew's Lane Corporation Tip, 1974

There’s a tarmac path that cuts across the thinnest part of the site, a convenient and popular shortcut with staggered barriers to deter the motorbikes. The entrances will be a priority once the work gets underway later this year and this path will have a hedgerow running alongside it.

“First, we’ll get rid of all the rubbish,” says Hilary, “then we’ll enhance the entry points and secure the boundaries by finishing off the fencing. We’ll consult with local people about what they’d like to see in the Vale. Maybe there could be a play facility, or a feature, some sort of attraction that would give people a reason to come.”

“Although we want to make it more accessible,” she continues, “we don’t want to lose the wilderness element. A wildflower area is a possibility and it certainly should still be a place where people can escape to.”

The first job will be to get rid of all the rubbish

The first job will be to get rid of all the rubbish

Tony Hall, another resident and member of the friends’ group, agrees: “In the summer, with all the foliage out, you can hardly see any of the surrounding houses. You feel as if you’re in the middle of nowhere.”

“It has the potential to follow in the successful footsteps of Clayton Vale,” says Julie Lawrence, New East Manchester’s Environment Programme Manager. “There’s a strong ‘friends’ group which is essential to the long term success of the Vale and with the right sort of maintenance programme and support after the initial investment, there’s no reason why Nutsford Vale shouldn’t continue to prosper.”

Consultations will take place locally with interested groups to discuss plans for the Vale.


Archive images courtesy of Manchester Local Image Collection.

On Show

Posted by editor on October 21, 2009 under Art, sport and leisure, Community

Black Looks banner

Pupils from Wright Robinson College show off their work inspired by Black Looks artist, Colin Yates. Their banner is displayed outside the Sportcity Visitor Centre on Ashton New Road.

Len Grant reports back from two exhibitions in east Manchester

Although it’s been on tour for ten years, this is the first appearance of the Black Looks exhibition in Manchester. And very welcome it is too. The 25 drawings, paintings and prints by artist Colin Yates, trace the contribution of Black and Asian professional footballers in Britain for more than a century.

Colin was motivated to produce his work whilst playing amateur football: ‘…I was witness to a series of racist incidents involving my Black and Asian teammates,’ says the exhibition introduction. ‘As a response to these verbal and physical attacks I decided to create an anti-racist football exhibition.’

Colin Yates' Black looks exhibition at Sportcity until the 26th

Colin Yates' 'Black Looks' exhibition at Sportcity until the 26th

Colin accompanies the exhibition as it visits new cities, leading workshops with local schoolchildren as part of his continuing artistic response to racism in football. This week and last, he’s been motivating Wright Robinson High School students to create their own artwork based on the issues raised by the exhibition. Colin has worked with over 200 schools and community groups, educating through his art.

But what of the work? It’s powerful and full-on. Appropriately, Colin’s portrait of City’s Shaun Wright-Phillips kicks off the exhibition. It’s a beautifully-crafted copy of a photograph of W-P playing in a ‘friendly’ against Spain in Madrid. Behind him are Spanish fans, some on their feet, and you can almost see the verbal abuse hurled from the stand. The winger commented later, “That’s why I support the ‘Kick Racism out of Football’ campaign. It’s been going for 10 years but there is still a need for it, because you still hear the chants.”

Shaun Wright-Phillips on the receiving end of racist chants in Madrid

Portrait of Shaun Wright-Phillips in Madrid

Colin’s exhibition also charts the rise of Black footballers in the British game. One piece, Black Explosion 1970-80, features 11 footballers including, Garth Crooks, Laurie Cunningham, Clyde Best MBE, Cyrille Regis MBE, and Viv Anderson MBE who, in 1979, was the very first Black footballer to play for England in a full international match.

Anderson’s achievement is further profiled in a poster-style piece with solid reads, blues, greens and yellows and the word LANDMARK below his portrait. Obama got a poster in the same style in the run-up to the presidential elections last year.

Other notable pieces works include a ‘neon’ Stan Collymore, a controversial figure who Colin says ‘joined the list of great footballing underachievers.’

The exhibition runs until Monday 26th October at the Sportcity Visitor Centre, Ashton New Road, near its junction with Alan Turing Way. Call 0161 227 3151 for opening times.

The second exhibition has sadly come and gone. Only staged for one day in the studio at The Angels Centre in Gorton, it was Peter Koudellas’ debut show. Twenty or so black and white prints were testament to Peter’s diverse artistic talent. As a member of the Gorton Visual Arts group, 52 year-old Peter, who has learning disabilities, has documented scenes from his travels around the country.

Peter's debut solo show at The Angels in Gorton

Peter's debut solo show at The Angels in Gorton

“He’s only been taking pictures for about 18 months,” explains his mother, Marie. “He takes photographs wherever he goes, he always has his camera with him.”

Peter is particularly keen on public art and has documented sculptures in Yorkshire, artwork at the Millennium Centre in Cardiff, the Eric Morecombe figure on the Flyde coast and, nearer to home, Colin Spofforth’s The Runner at the City of Manchester Stadium. Not to upset any footballing rivalries his exhibition also included the Best, Law and Charlton tribute at Old Trafford!

As part of the Gorton Visual Arts group, Peter has also contributed to the Belle Vue mosaic at Gorton Market and to the group’s many artistic endeavours. Artist Ian McKay, who inspires and co-ordinates the local amateur artists, says of Peter, “His application of paint is fantastic. He’s already where many professional painters would love to be.”

Produce of Gorton

Posted by editor on October 16, 2009 under Community, Education and health, Environment

Len Grant takes a look at the Gorton allotment project that’s keeping rural skills alive in the city

Growing your own has never been so popular. For many allotment holders it’s all about producing fresh, tasty organic food, with an eye on self-sufficiency and reducing their own carbon footprint.

Rev David Gray: "You don't need an allotment to keep hens."

Rev David Gray: "You don't need an allotment to keep hens."

At the Faith in the Community allotments in Gorton, they’ve taken it a step further. Here local people are being encouraged to not only use whatever space they have – back yard or window box – to grow vegetables and herbs, but they can now learn how to keep ex-battery hens.

“We’ve got 14 chickens, six ducks and five geese at the moment,” says Rev David Gray, whose wife Elaine, runs the allotment. “And all the chickens have been rescued from battery farms.” Apparently Britain’s 20 million battery hens only have an 18-month productive life before they are slaughtered. Increasing numbers are now being rescued by the Battery Hen Welfare Trust (they’re either given away or sold for up to 50p each) and found new homes. With a little ‘TLC’ the hens recover physically from their ordeal and reward their new owners with fresh eggs.

Bath-time“Almost anyone can keep chickens,” explains Rev David, “you don’t need an allotment like this. It would be great to see people across the city building pens and keeping rescued birds.”

It’s a popular prospect for many. Already David and Elaine are offering workshops in ethical poultry care and fox-proof pen construction. “Over a generation we’ve lost many of our basic skills,” explains Rev David, “looking after animals and growing and preparing fresh food would have been second nature, but fewer people now know how to do it. We’re trying to pass on some of those skills before they are lost forever.”

Marrows and pumpkinsOver the last twelve months Elaine has hosted sessions with local volunteers, schoolchildren and young people on probation, demonstrating how to grow fruit and vegetables from seed, and most of all, how to prepare food for the dinner table.

As part of this month’s Food and Drink Festival Open Day, one visitor, Pushpa Lad, has come along to see what’s what amongst the leeks and marrows. “I’ve never been on an allotment before,” she confesses. “My husband is very interested in starting one up and I’ve come to take a look. I can imagine we’d grow coriander, spinach, aubergines, all sorts.”

Pushpa Lad, centre, with allotment volunteer, Elaine Gray

Pushpa Lad, centre, with allotment volunteer, Elaine Gray and John Steadman of Gorton Horticultural Society

“What we’re striving towards,” says Rev David, “is a whole network of local producers who can not only satisfy their own needs but have sufficient surplus to feed vulnerable people across the city. We’re making connections between different groups to achieve this, and the community allotment here is just a small part of that broader picture.”

To find out more about the network of producers helping to feed the vulnerable, visit the “Pharoahs Barn” group on Facebook or email Rev David Gray on david@fn4m.org

The Battery Hen Welfare Trust is at www.bhwt.org.uk